Climate crisis becomes more topical every year, not only because every year we are a little closer to environmental disaster, but also because an increase in climate disasters, better scientific understanding of our world and a growing number of climate activists are bringing sustainability into the spotlight. 2019 was a hot year for climate change in the media, with devastating wildfires in Australia and the Amazon rainforest and, for many young people around the world, Greta Thunberg’s message was almost messianic.
One of the biggest obstacles preventing cultures from adopting sustainable practices has been capitalism. Capitalism incentivises growth, which means production and consumption. Documentaries and films, fictional or not, that highlight where our economic systems, big businesses and governments fail are essential.
“But just imagine…”. That is the refrain that most succinctly sums up the message of the Australian environmental documentary 2040. The current environmental discourse surrounding the future is overtly negative: when you look at global consumption statistics or climate projections, it’s difficult not to picture future generations growing up in a desolate and sweltering world, choking on the smog we left behind.
The documentary 2040 moves away from this horrifying vision of the future, and pitches us the futuristic urban utopia we all wish we could believe in. The director, Damon Gameau, calls the film an exercise in fact-based dreaming, and asks the question: “What would the world be like in 2040 if we just implemented the solutions which already exist?”
The film opens with an intimate introduction to Gameau’s four-year-old daughter Velvet, and the innocent world she knows. Velvet is the centre of a running narrative throughout the film – a concerned father, searching and fighting for a better future for his beloved little girl.
Every time Gameau discovers a new potential solution for an environmental challenge, it is followed by an overacted scene of Velvet as a young adult, living in an ideal world in which this solution has been successfully implemented on a large scale. These enactments, while trite, are fun and inspiring, and probably intentionally exaggerated. The film has a light, humorous tone and special effects are used liberally. When scientific ideas are explained (always in layman’s terms) the experts explaining them often appear as tiny figures sitting on regular objects.
All the electricity produced is from personal solar panels – it is clean, off-the-grid energy – and has allowed impoverished communities who would not normally be able to afford electricity or a solar panel to buy power from their neighbours when they need it. It’s a mutually beneficial system which keeps capital in the economy, reduces pressure on municipalities, is cheaper to use and is better for the environment.
The narrator explores similarly innovative solutions, including autonomous vehicles, marine permaculture, and importantly, female empowerment. Near the end of the film, the narrative relating to his daughter Velvet becomes increasingly relevant.
Gameau supports the growing view of feminist environmentalism, the notion that, “The number one solution of reducing global warming is the empowerment of girls and women”(as explained by sustainability expert, Paul Hawken, in the film). The basis for this claim is that the empowerment of women is inversely proportional to the amount of children they have, and one of the biggest things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint is to have fewer children. This ties into the interdisciplinary nature of environmentalism – once you start investing in greener practices there are benefits to other societal areas as well.
Overall, 2040 is uplifting and entertaining. The simulated predictions of what 2040 would look like were we to implement the solutions explored in the film are optimistic and contingent on massive “what-ifs”, but they do offer a valuable shift in perspective. The film is a gentle call to action – the solutions we are looking for are already out there, and their implementation, rather than being a sacrifice, would benefit us. Rather than fall into despair and disengage, support greener living when you can and put pressure on those in power to utilise the creative answers that some people have already found.